Looking back on my adolescence I can still distinctly recall being 12 years old and that feeling of individual accomplishment, so rare at that age, when I discovered a film, book or piece of music that I felt none of my peers had yet discovered. Finding art that speaks to your individual condition is, and always will be worthy of amazement, but when your perception of the world is cascading all around you, those things that you cling to are all the more significant, purely because they are the only things you can be certain of. I remember hording every album that I found at that age, even painstakingly hiding the albums when friends would come over, terrified of the possibility of someone relating to one of the only things I was certain related to me. That all changed in the summer of 2003 when my buddy Joe invited me over to his house and made me privy to the Stills' Logic Will Break Your Heart, which despite being critically well received, seemed like an intimate confession of profound friendship on Joe's part. From that day forward I resolved never to hide good music from anybody.
Yet, when 2009's incredible Songs Of Shame came out I couldn't help but feel as if I was hording Woods. Unlike my pubescent self I wasn't doing so intentionally and despite the album's relative acclaim, I couldn't help but feel like no one was paying attention to Woods but me. Fast forward 5 years, 3 albums, numerous 45's and countless under-attended shows to today, two weeks after the release of their 7th album, With Light & With Love and I still can't help but feel like they are the best kept secret in music.
Like every album in Woods' catalogue With Light & With Love is an exploration in aesthetic and an evolution in chemistry between songwriter Jeremy Earl and guitarist/producer Jarvis Taveniere. Since Songs Of Shame the band has gradually navigated translating their scuzzy, psychedelic live jams onto wax without compromising their folk sensibilities. With Light & With Love is their most well balanced alchemy to date (which is something I feel like I say after every release); their sound evokes their americana and experimental influences in ways they seemed timid to fully embrace in the past. Whether it be the newly texturally employed organ, reminiscent of The Band on “Leaves Like Glass” or the honky-tonk slide-guitar akin to the Flying Burrito Brothers on “Full Moon” Woods manage to seamlessly infuse their sound with newfound layers that never distract from their distinct sonic amalgam.
While much of this progression is natural, with Earl, Taveniere and bassist Kevin Morby having played together extensively for the past few years, a lot of praise should be directed to Taveniere's evolution as a sound engineer and producer. Undoubtably much of Woods' shifts in sonic quality from album to album were intentional, but upon reviewing their sound from each album leading up to With Light & With Love it would seem that Taveniere (as a producer) was building toward this all along. It's worth mentioning that Taveniere also produced last years overlooked, self-titled album from Happy Jawbone Family Band and Quilt's excellent new record Held In Splendor.
When listening to Woods it has always been the case that Jeremy Earl's fragile falsetto does more to obscure his lyrics than amplify them, With Light & With Love being no different. There is a sort of beautiful, understated brilliance though to having a songwriter whose songwriting is often obfuscated by the bands lush instrumentation; Earl somehow remains the antithesis of a conventional frontman while consistently pitching remarkably poetic and profound mantras worthy of their own published collection.
Since I discovered Woods I've had to weigh the positives and negatives of having a favorite band that I felt many were missing out on. Part of me was delighted to once again have something that so profoundly spoke to my condition, seemingly all to myself (turns out it's still hard to know who you are). But the other part of me felt guilty that a band that embodies all the beauty of music was being so unjustifiably overlooked. A few years back I was fortunate enough to turn Joe (same one) onto Woods, since which we have seen them a few times together and are actually headed to a one day festival in California this summer that Woods is hosting. The lesson being that a shared love is always more meaningful than one kept to yourself, even if it risks exposing a secret aspect of yourself.
Woods will play with Quilt at Subterranean in Chicago on May 7th, tickets HERE
With Light & With Love is available at Woodsist, the label run by Jeremy Earl. It is uncoincidentally one of the best labels around.